Jan 2, 2014

Anime Review: Ano Natsu de Matteru

AnoNatsu title/logoClassically animated in style but with plenty of modern technical prowess, this series takes us through “that fateful summer” as our protagonist meets, falls for, and inevitably gets tangled up with a new transfer student who is as beautiful as she is eccentric. If that synopsis sounds a bit too familiar, that’s because it is. But don’t let that turn you off! While it isn’t anything new, the quality of animation, direction, music, and screenplay combine to make a solidly excellent series with only a few issues. Been itchin’ for another good romance/drama? I suggest you keep reading. (Note: haters should keep reading too, because… because don’t leave me…)

What feels like only a little while ago but was actually shockingly a decade ago for me, I watched a little series called Onegai Teacher (and its follow-up sorta-sequel Onegai Twins, but let’s focus on the teacher one today). Boasting pretty good animation for its time, it had a delightful soundtrack by I’ve Sound, a touch of sci-fi (the eponymous teacher was actually an alien from outer space!), and a notably more “adult” take on high school romance. The protagonist was physically an adult, already 18 due to health problems earlier in life that held him back though unbeknownst to his high school peers. His relationship, too, was both “thrillingly taboo” (in love with his teacher!) but one that he and the series approached with maturity. He was serious about her, forming a relationship, and understanding each other. It lacked a lot of the typical teenage bullshit. They even got married! Overall, it was a pretty decent little series.

But why do I bring this up now?

Ichika and Kaito stand before a grassy tree-lined slope

Ano Natsu de Matteru (translated as Waiting in That Summer) is a story about a similarly kinda nerdy glasses-wearing boy who develops a crush on a girl older than him that also happens to be an alien from outer space. Not only is he smitten, but he is very serious and determined and approaches it with a lot of maturity. Though she isn’t a teacher, she is also red-haired, wears glasses, is very polite and kind, and is at first unwilling to consider him a romantic prospect. Two episodes in and I was positively convinced this was a knowing rip-off of Onegai Teacher, particularly when I heard the blatant reference during the next episode preview segment. But no, it is actually an adaptation of a light novel series, whereas Onegai Teacher was an original work. Turns out, the lead screenplay writer and character designer on AnoNatsu both were involved in the Please! franchise… so, not-so-mystery solved!

Side-by-side screenshot comparison of Ichika and Mizuho, the lead females of AnoNatsu and Onegai Teacher respectively

In all seriousness though, AnoNatsu is most definitely a sort of version 2 of Onegai Teacher. Ten years later with more experience (and more money/tech in the anime studios) it is a let’s-try-that-again sort of thing. And it manages to mostly out-do its spiritual predecessor. Anyone who has seen Onegai Teacher will be hard-pressed to ignore the glaring similarities, but probably won’t be able to deny that it works well on its own, derivative/influenced or not.

Lead protagonist Kaito messing with his old handheld camera on a bridge at nightKaito is a kind but nerdy guy who has a hobby of playing around with his late grandfather’s old 8mm handheld video camera. He happens to be out filming one night and gets fatally wounded during our lead alien girl Ichika’s crash landing on Earth. Fortunately, she has spiffy space medicine to heal him and he wakes up the next day in his own bed feeling like it was a dream. Lo and behold, Ichika shows up as a transfer student the next day at school and he is instantly intrigued and also feels she is vaguely familiar. On the way home, he slips into one of his frequent daydreams, imagining that he offers to let her stay at his place since it turns out she is oddly homeless. When she accepts, he suddenly realizes he’s been talking aloud and she's actually been there the whole time. And so it goes from there…

The four main characters at school chatting at their desks

As good as this series is it is incredibly predictable. Of course his sister leaves for three months (basically the entire summer) so he gets to live alone with the new girl he has a crush on. Of course he has a friend who’s secretly liked him for years. Of course his other friend is her childhood friend and has liked her for years. Of course one of their other friends likes said male friend. Yes, it quickly becomes quite the love polygon as drama builds and feelings and secrets start to get confessed. There are no real twists or surprises and you will easily anticipate everything. It ends up being mostly forgivable though, because the characters make it all still work. They are well developed, distinct, and the dialogue and scene execution is both enjoyable and strong.

Aside from the predictability, the other major issue I had was with the ending. Now, no spoilers of course, but I just gotta rant about it because it irked me so much. Up until the final climax, I was quite pleased with the way things were going and the general style and direction of the series. But, kind of like how the Revolutionary Girl Utena movie takes a left turn towards Wackyville during the final act (if you’ve seen that movie, you know exactly what I’m driving at), the final episode or so of AnoNatsu also does a pretty dramatic sudden tonal shift with all of the grace of a truck doing eighty on the interstate until the driver accidentally shifts into second gear.

Ichika, in nothing but a towel, holds up an unconscious Kaito as futuristic readouts envelope the two

See, I get that she is an alien from space. I get the sci-fi angle. But I also note that the previous ten or so episodes barely cared about that. Beyond the plot point of her being able to heal his injuries with her hand-waving nanomachine medicine, the story did not need her to be an alien at all. The entirety of it all would have worked just as well if she had really been, as she bluffs, a foreign exchange student and that’s why she cooks weird food, doesn’t understand common cultural things, and so on. And that’s just it… because the plot didn’t actually need any of the sci-fi stuff until the end when it gets aggressively thrown at you it feels jarring and out of place to say the least. As a result, it tore me out of what was supposed to be a bittersweet tear-jerker ending. (And don’t get me started on that cop-out in the last twenty seconds basically undoing it all. Saw it coming, of course, but aggravating nonetheless.)

Kaito walks home along a quiet street, his back to the viewer, as the sun is just starting to set

Still, it looks really good, sounds really good, has some great performances (not so much Ichika, though my problem is her take on performing the character not the quality of her acting). The ending song/sequence is delightfully woven into the episodes. It's well directed and produced, no doubt about that. So overall, it still manages to be an excellent series well worth checking out if it sounds like your cup of tea.

As of this writing, you can watch Ano Natsu de Matteru for free on Crunchyroll.

Colored outlines of the main characters stand in a line against a stark white backdrop with black stars all around them

No comments:

Post a Comment